Tour Diary: New Orleans and Oxford

Frayn and me at Rowan Oak

It’s been a few days since I blogged about our travels and a lot has happened. If you’re on Facebook you can see some photos there too if you’re curious.

Right now, we’re in Memphis, hanging out at the Peabody Hotel checking our Internet stuff (free wi-fi) and watching the ducks get escorted from the famous lobby fountain to the roof (a beautiful and comic spectacle).

Here is what has been happening the past couple of days/cities:

We got into New Orleans on Saturday and checked into the Hilton by the French Quarter (Thanks, Rupert Murdoch!). We had just enough energy to go for a quick stroll through the quarter. It was pretty rainy that day so the streets were wet but spirits were still hot and high. It was the first time Frayn had ever been there and we got dinner and drinks to celebrate.

The next morning, our friend Pia Z. Ehrhardt picked us up and gave us a tour of her city. It really is one of the best cities in the country, even with the struggles and aftermath of Katrina and the levee disaster. We drove through the lower 9th ward and saw some of the destroyed homes and trashed lots nuzzled right next to the new (and odd) “Brad Pitt houses” that he’s had built down there. We drove through the beautiful city park, next to the museum and by the school where Pia teaches. Then she took us to her super sweet home and fed us red beans and rice.

frayn, me, and Pia

From there we went to the Maple Street Bookstore. My agent, New Orleans superhero Michael Murphy, met us there and I read a few chapters of ACP to a small crowd (Houston–you no longer hold the record for smallest turnout!).

We spent some time with Michael and went to Octavia Books and signed a stack of books there too (if you live in NOLA, go to either of those stores to get your signed copy!). We went (of course) to Cafe Du Monde and later we stumbled on a place called Marigny Brasserie for a delicious dinner.

The next night we made it just in time for my 5:00 event at Square Books with Claudia Smith and Mary Miller. They do a cool thing there, where they have drinks (wine, whiskey, and ginger ale!) and snacks out for people before the readings start at 5:30, so it was nice to relax a little and catch up with Mary and Claudia and meet the super cool folks at Square Books, Michael Bible and David Swider. Not to mention, Lynn Roberts, the store manager.

Claudia started things off with a few stories from Put Your Head In My Lap and then Mary Miller read a great story from Big World. We took a quick drink break before I was to read and then before I went up to the podium–I shit you not!–John Grisham walked out with store owner and former mayor, Richard Howarth (who is also a legend around Mississippi). “He doesn’t usually do this,” Howarth started. “But John Grisham wanted to share some words with y’all.” It was a pretty odd moment, a lot of people looked at each other, thinking it was some sort of prank. But then we realized it really was John Grisham and he stood up there and read for ten minutes from his new book, Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer. This whole experience was also strange because I had, just an hour or so beforehand, been trying to point out Grisham’s giant house off the side of the highway to Frayn as we entered Oxford.

When Grisham was done reading, Howarth invited Mary and Claudia and I up for a photo op. “So people will believe you when you say you read with John Grisham,” he said. The bestselling autho did stick around til the end of the reading, but I’m not sure if he bought any of our books.πŸ™‚

Miller, Sampsell, Grisham, Smith

When I got up to read after that, I joked, “I called John earlier today to see if he wanted to open up for me but I didn’t think he’d show up.”

The whole experience of reading at Square Books was great. Local writers like the awesome Tom Franklin and the hilarious Jack Pendarvis were also there, along with a nice (and surprisingly big) crowd made up of younger student types. I guess summer school still packs them in at Ole Miss.

After the reading we went with a gang of folks to City Grocery for drinks and then Ajax, one of the great eateries in the Square. After dinner, we loaded straws up with toothpicks and shot them into the ceiling, as the tradition allows. I got about six toothpicks embedded in that sucker.

We stayed for two night with Tom Fanklin and Beth Ann Fennelly, in their luxurious guest house. Breakfast was had at Big Bad Breakfast, a place where all the food are named after southern writers and books. We had dinner at another great place next door to that called Snackbar. And we visited Faulkner’s place, Rowan Oak. All in all, it was a GREAT time in Oxford and probably the highlight of this trip so far.

My breakfast at Big Bad Breakfast

We’re now here in Memphis for a quick stop and then off to Atlanta tomorrow to hang with Blake Butler, Jamie Iredell, Amy McDaniel, and our friends there. More travel adventures and pics to come. Thanks for reading!

One response to “Tour Diary: New Orleans and Oxford

  1. That’s cool about Grisham but I’m SUPER JEALOUS you got to hang out with Pia.

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